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Nick Knight: Kate Moss, Vogue, September 2000

Work / Exhibition

Curator Shonagh Marshall takes us through the highlights from Hair by Sam McKnight

Armed with an arsenal of scissors, combs and enough hair spray to make hair stand up stiff, Sam McKnight has styled his way to over 100 vogue covers. The hairstylist has been credited for defining the images of supermodels Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell, and for creating Princess Diana’s iconic slicked-back look. Now, Somerset House is set to launch Hair by Sam McKnight, a unique exhibition featuring photography, behind-the-scenes footage, magazines and commissioned wigs and hairpieces from Sam’s 40-year long career.

We asked the exhibition’s curator Shonagh Marshall to select five images from Hair by Sam McKnight before the exhibition opens to the public next week.

Agyness Deyn, 2005 (photographer Ben Dunbar Brunton)

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Ben Dunbar Brunton: Agyness Deyn, 2005

“An integral thread running throughout the curatorial narrative of the exhibition is the role in which McKnight has in shaping the identity of the women he works with. An example of this is one of his signature styles: the short crop. In the mid-1980s McKnight cropped model Jeny Howorth’s hair very short to her head and bleached it blonde. She was immediately in demand, her look both coveted and copied. McKnight repeated this style on other models and singers but its most transformative effect after Howorth was on model Agyness Deyn. When Deyn and McKnight met on a shoot in 2005 she had shoulder-length hair, which he cut into a crop that day and bleached the next, defining a new identity. This image captures Deyn staring confrontationally into the lens of the camera, her wet hair accentuating the blunt McKnight chop.”

Tilda Swinton, Dazed & Confused, May 2010 (photographer Glen Luchford)

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Glen Luchford: Tilda Swinton, Dazed & Confused, May 2010

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Glen Luchford: Tilda Swinton, Dazed & Confused, May 2010

“The power hair has to transform our identity is uncanny and key moments of our life are often punctuated by a change in hairstyle. McKnight works with models and actresses, who are everyday chameleons, his role to transform them into the character they are to play in front of the camera. Here Tilda Swinton sits for Glen Luchford wearing two different wigs within the same shoot. The auburn soft curls on the right obscure her face and are representative of an art nouveau illustration, whereas the pilled curls on the left give a romanticised hint of the androgynous style Swinton is known for.”

Gisele Bunchen, Harper’s Bazaar, October 2007 (photographer Alexei Hay)

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Alexei Hay: Gisele Bunchen, Harper’s Bazaar, October 2007 (courtesy of Trunk Archive)

“A section within the exhibition focuses on McKnight’s use of a wind machine to create movement in the hair. He explains ‘my focus is on creating texture, and movement is secondary. Sometimes you set it. Sometimes you use extensions, and sometimes you run your fingers through it and then you turn on the machine. No matter the specific method, getting hair moving is one of my favourite techniques.’ Hair itself is never truly static, constantly growing and moving, and McKnight’s approach celebrates this.”

Linda Evangelista, Sam McKnight and Jesse the Chimp, 1992 (photographer, Laspata Decaro)

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Laspata Decaro: Linda Evangelista, Sam McKnight and Jesse the Chimp, 1992

“Another section in the exhibition entitled ‘Intimacy’ exhibits personal photographs Sam McKnight has taken throughout his career capturing stylists, photographers, models and make-up artists at work and at play. Travelling to far-flung locations with a small team of people has meant the bonds he has developed are extraordinary. This image captures Sam with Linda Evangelista on location for a Kenar advertising campaign. The most intimate interactions he has are with the models, every day running his fingers through their hair and re-shaping their image. His role is more than mere hairstylist, he is also friend and confidant.”

Kate Moss, British Vogue, September 2010 (photographer Patrick Demarchelier)

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Patrick Demarchelier: Kate Moss, British Vogue, September 2010 (courtesy Condé Nast Publications)

“McKnight is synonymous with a style he calls ‘done/undone’. In this image Kate Moss models the look, her hair exuding a natural sexiness where you can almost see where his hands have moved through it. McKnight learnt his craft in the late 1970s at salon Molton Brown on South Molton Street. The training he received was to celebrate the natural properties of hair, the salon famed for its use of organic products and the banning of hairdryers, which were replaced by rag-rollers. This approach is something McKnight has continued throughout his career and has resulted in his hands being dubbed as ‘magic’.”